Saturday, August 26, 2017

Finding Normal: PTSD in Romance Fiction

One of the many joys of writing fiction is that I am permitted to craft characters and plots that point to what I see as societal problems.

For example, I am a big supporter of veteran’s rights. When someone in the U.S. enlists in the military they enter into a formal contract. The soldier agrees to serve this country to the best of their ability and the government, in turn, promises them certain benefits. Though some may disagree, I believe our government has failed keep its end of the bargain. One needs to look no further than the troubled veteran’s health system.

War is hell, and those who engage in combat often do not escape unscathed—physically or mentally. For example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common problem, one that often goes untreated because returning soldiers are either undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, offered improper treatment, or denied access to treatment. As a result, there are significant incidents of suicide, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and criminal behavior. The U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs says the incidence of PTSD varies among “service era,” but offers the following statistics:

  • Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Between 11 and 20 out of every 100 veterans (11-20 percent) have PTSD in a given year.
  • The Gulf War (Desert Storm). Approximately 12 out of every 100 veterans or 12 percent have PTSD in a given year.
  • The Vietnam War. An estimated 15 out of every 100 veterans (15 percent) have been diagnosed with PTSD and 30 out of every 100 have had PTSD in their lifetime.

When a soldier returns to civilian life, he or she needs to find a new normal. I believe it is part of our contract to help them find it. This is America’s shame and way too many people want to bury it under a bushel.

That’s why I wrote, “Finding Normal,” the third chapter in Kinky Briefs, Thrice. In the story, U.S. Army veteran Alex Thomas struggles with finding his new normal after returning home from Afghanistan. He has faced the ravages of war and escaped the treacherous grip of death, yet he is scarred by what he has seen and experienced. Enter Judge Clarissa West, the owner of a Hippotherapy ranch and a St. Louis criminal court judge. She needs a ranch manager--“a cowboy with an M.B.A.”--to help her manage her legacy. As Clarissa helps Alex deal with his PTSD, he helps her save her ranch. Not surprisingly, what began as compassion leads to love.

By now, a few of you may be saying, “What a downer. You have no business putting that in romantic fiction.” I beg to disagree. Love is never perfect, and true love is about more than simple companionship and possibly, sexual heat. True love is about embracing each other’s differences, as well as faults and problems, and finding a constructive way to address or adjust to them. It begins with acceptance and it ends with commitment. And quite simply, trusting that someone else has your back.

In the end, I believe in the healing power of love. I believe that with love, most can find their new normal.

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